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My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose
September 15th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Editor's Note: Brian D. McLaren  is author of "Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World" (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group). 

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.

At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam - beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often - truth be told - contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents."  Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy "naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

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Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned.  John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s "Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington" (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians - and all Americans - in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.

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Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point - a hitting bottom, if you will - in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.

It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian - beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.

Islamophobic evangelical Christians - and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late - must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.

The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

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Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.

To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.”

The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brian D. McLaren.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Islam • Opinion

soundoff (8,500 Responses)
  1. snowboarder

    the only way to combat religious extremism is through education.

    thankfully education has relegated christianity in the modernized world into little more than a social club for all but a few extremists.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  2. seriouslyfolks

    The major point is fine, we should not assume every Muslim is a terrorist or out to kill us. But you cannot deny that radical Islam is a problem to us and the moderate Muslims around the world. We don't need to exaggerate the issue, but don't blame people for expressing real concern when Islamic mobs carry out barbaric acts. That's on them, not us.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  3. doc

    "Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence". "the tiny minority of Muslims"; then why don't the "vast majority" of Muslims do something to make a difference instead of allowing and encouraging the "tiny minority"?

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  4. John

    Do Muslim Clerics read their book to Muslims? Maybe they are afraid Muslims will riot and kill them if they do, so the Clerics don't read it out load? What a strange religion, that discussing the religion's text, causes riots and murders. People and ignorance, oh what a deadly combination.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  5. Jim McDonald

    This guy could well be the biggest ass-hat CNN has posted in a while. Go visit the middle east, and tell your islamic friends you will never follow their god and learn about " alleged evils" first hand.

    Have someone bring a basket to take your head home in.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  6. Carolyn

    I was previously sympathetic to muslims around the world, but even with American mistales, I still cannot help but feel it is time for me as a Westerner to dismisse these ungrateful animal like heathens. Unfortunately, the violence of Islam has far outshadowed the sickening perversity of evangelical christianity. As a non-christian, I stand with the christians and the jews. May nothing but starvation. misery and death plague the muslim world until the supposed peace makers of their faith reclaim islam in the name of allah. The "good" muslims are FAR TOO SILENT. Until you speak out for good, I will stand against you forever.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:48 am |
  7. politicalsleuth

    To the author, thank you very much for the intelligent article.

    Of course, as is expected, you will be attacked by your own for disagreeing with THEIR hate agenda. Good luck.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
  8. Answerman28

    Help Im trapped on planet full of nut cases who are warring over "gods". Anyone with half a brain and the guts to tell the truth can see that all religions are complete lies. Religion is the biggest waste of time, resources and human life ever. Approx 3 billion people have died as a direct result of religious wars and persecutions in the last 10,000 years. Atheism and science are the only path to sanity and hope for the future of our species.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Jim McDonald

      Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Jong Il all brought such love and understanding to the world?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • R222

      That is hilarious. The belief that we cam from nothing, are going nowhere, life has no meaning, no purpose, love does not exist, human life has no value, there is no definition of right and wrong that all of humanity must submit to...thus making all of the things wrong in our world "Ok" for those committing the autrocities...is the way forward?

      Do you realize, that based on your theory the very things you are angry against have no merit?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
    • Fred

      Too bad about all the millions of people who have died due to atheism in places like Russia, China, and North Korea.
      Too bad you don't have a clue. Too bad you don't know what you're talking about.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  9. muslim2012

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEk0Dtg8pHQ&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Marcus

      A Muslim troll.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:49 am |
    • Mustachio

      So what was your point in posting that, 'Muslim'? Looks to me that the Christian Queen of a decidedly Christian nation politely sat while the Muezzin recited something that she could not understand (I do not believe that Queen Elizabeth understands classic Arabic). What this proves to me is that all of the tolerance is on the Christian side and all of the demands for tolerance are on the Muslim side. That's not to say that there is not intolerance among Christians, but no one is rampaging through embassies and committing murder in the name of Christ or as a defense of Christianity.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:14 am |
  10. Dave Harrris

    Fear and hate, legitimized by perverted religion, is hardly limited to the Muslim world. Evangelicals should either realize that the Muslims are just like them and stop making such a big deal about it, or they should go ahead and wage holy war, murder each other, and leave the rest of us alone.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Carolyn

      Can you please cite the last time an evangelical christian stormed an embassy and murdered innocent people? You can;t, because it has never happened. For you to compare the ignorance of evangelicals (I do not care for them either) to the murderous violent inclinations of muslims everywhere is beyond stupid. There is NO COMPARISON between evangelicals and Muslim Skum who regularly kill people. Get a grip and a clue you moronic dolt of stupidity.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:50 am |
    • Anon

      Moral equivalence is a mind disease.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
    • takawalk

      Anon No commonly defined morels at all will be worse.

      September 25, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
  11. Dave

    Evangelicals forget that it is fundamentalism that causes the Muslim backlash, as well as the Christian provocation in the first place. Fundamentalism is the problem. Karen Armstrong's book "The Battle for God" shows very clearly how fundamentalism has grown in all of the three monotheistic major religions and made the world a more dangerous place.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Carolyn

      Again, please cite one single example of an evangelical terror attack. You cannot, because it has never happened which makes you a vile, low rent liar. Burn in the pits with the muslim pigs you sack of filth.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:51 am |
    • Fred

      Dave, what an uninformed post you just made! It's pathetic!
      The people who made this film are people with an axe to grind against Islam. They did it not for
      religious reasons, but because they wanted to make trouble. They succeeded.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:56 am |
    • Anon

      Karen Armstrong is a well known apologist. Her "good intention" is a path to dhimmitude.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  12. Kate

    I was raised Christian. Even at a young age, I wasn't seeing any logic in the beliefs I was asked to accept. My pastor told me I had to go on faith, rather than logic. I'm no longer involved in any religious group. My beliefs are my own. However, I've had an opportunity to know a lot of Christians, as well as people of many other faiths. The Christians have always been the most obsessed with evangelizing others to their beliefs. Most Christians know little about other religions of the world, however, they firmly believe that theirs is the only ‘true’ religion. I think it's sad that they are so smug and unwilling to consider that other people feel the same about their own faith. Right now, they are intent on pushing the laws of this country to reflect Christian principles, even though many of us aren’t Christian and don’t follow these principles. I think Brian McLaren is pretty accurate in this article. If Christians truly believe in the teachings of Christ, whom they profess to follow, they would be more accepting of others and less critical of ideas that aren't their own. Christ taught love and compassion. He taught helping those in need. He didn't teach hate or revenge. The conviction that one's religion is the only true religion has caused more death and misery on this earth than any other product of the human mind.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
    • Fred

      Kate, the way you described Christians is also a fine way to describe atheists. You listen to what the
      atheists have to say and they are just as bad as you claim Christians are.
      Good thing atheists only make up about 2% of the American population. I'd hate to see them as a majority.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:58 am |
  13. Marcus

    Why is it always the people in America who are starting to become sickened by the ignorance of Islam? The video is an ignorant video none the less, but killling in the name of an ignorant video, is the most evil. I have no sympathy for Muslims anywhere after this crap. Christians have been ridiculed for hundreds of years, yet do we stand up and kill based of Islam's view of Christ? Enough of the crap these Islamic men do, where are their women? In the kitchen? I consider myself open mindd, but these fools have crossed the line.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  14. como1

    How about an article on the Judeo-Christianaphobia of Muslims? Muslims are the most violent religion in the modern history of mankind.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
    • Marcus

      Best comment of the board... These crappy writer always sympathize with the fools, as they are fools themselves.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:47 am |
    • Fred

      I remember during the Gulf War when we were there protecting them from their own.
      We were not allowed to practice our religion because over there they have a death penalty for
      practicing any religion other than Islam.
      Explain that one away, McLaren.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:00 am |
  15. Any American

    You are missing the point.

    Who cares if someone makes a cartoon, movie, song, or caricature of their prophet?

    You keep demanding we respect their beliefs and that it's ok for them to ignore ours.

    There is no intelligence in ignoring or making excuses for people of any kind or any background when they act like this (Muslim fundamentalists).

    Even if we don't agree with the guys views who made the film, it is his right to make it.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:45 am |
  16. muslim2012

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RawbaoXJ2e8&w=640&h=390]

    September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Sue

      Merely proves that great and famous people can be gullible too. It will be a great day when humanity grows up and gets past religious supersti-tions. Islam and Christianity especially.

      September 16, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  17. Charles

    I am not an evangelical Christian, and I am in fact not even a believing Christian, but I am quite convinced that Islam is an evil religious cult bent on destroying western values such as democracy and freedom of belief.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  18. mydogbill

    I myself have many Muslim friends. That doesn't change the fact that radical Islam murders in the name of their god. That the leadership of Iran is convinced they are playing a prophesied role in the coming of their messiah that will lead to Islamic rule over all nations of the earth. That the apocalypse is a career objective for Islamic radicals. That the Koran denies every major tenant of Christianity. To wrap that all up and call it islamaphobia is as naive thought of an Arab spring leading to moderate governments in the middle east. To quotethink the Russians "What you think you get – Democracy?"

    September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • theliberian429

      The only person is naive is you!The fact that you dont even the intelligence to grasp the objective and the message in article tells me more about your ignorance and stupidity.By the way I hardly believe you have any muslim feiends as you claim mr.naive,if you do,then I hope those muslim friends will soon come to their senses and cut you off-because they have nothing to gain from a stupid,naive and ignorant person like you.

      September 16, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  19. truth1111

    What a joke... Muslims use ANY excuse to murder anyone whom they disagree and we blame it on a short film that was posted 6 MONTHS ago... This is the product of the "Arab spring"... Obama is completely clueless and is responsible for this just as Carter was responsible for the 1979 Iranian revolution that killed innocents as well.

    September 16, 2012 at 9:44 am |
    • Berto

      What exactly would Romney or W do that would make this situation any better?

      September 16, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  20. 1amazed2u

    Live like desert heathens you are desert heathens

    September 16, 2012 at 9:43 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.